Day 28

September 28, 2008

I had quite a productive day today, at least for a Sunday: I got my washing done, mucked around a little bit in the garden, did some tidying up around the house. Nothing earth-shatteringly important, but still OK.

I didn’t eat much during the day, just a little snacking here and there. Some nice garlic and herb pitta breads, though.

When it came to dinner time, I was at a little bit of a loss; I couldn’t really think what I wanted to eat. I was sort of in the mood for something a little spicy, but couldn’t figure out what to have. I also had some peppers in the fridge which I had to use up a bit quick, because they were about ready to go wrinkly, and were already a little crinkly, to tell the truth. I also wanted something fairly quick and easy, because I wasn’t really in the mood to do a lot of cooking.

I go through stages like that sometimes, where I just don’t feel like it; as much as I enjoy cooking most of the time, sometimes it just feels a little like too much effort.

Anyway, I was in the mood for something spicy, and I had those peppers, which immediately brought to mind that I should cook some chili. And then I had a brainwave moment. I decided to stay withe the idea of lentil chili, but instead of putting the peppers into the chili, I would put the chilli into the peppers! Peppers stuffed with lentil chili, in other words.

Sometimes, it just needs the spark of a new idea to make you take renewed interest in something.

I started with a finely chopped onion, and a stick of celery, also finely chopped. I think the key with making stuffed anything is to make sure that anything which has to be chopped isn’t too large – you want your filling mixture to be fairly small so it can get right down into the nooks and crannies and fill the space efficiently. I also chopped a single green chili, and two cloves of garlic.

All of this went into a pan with some oil, and was gently fried for a while. Meanwhile back at the ranch I opened a can of red kidney beans, which I drained. These were added to the mix, along with maybe a 1/4 lb or so of red lentils, a can of chopped tomatoes, a canful of water, two teaspoons of ground cumin, some ground coriander (cilantro to you Americans) and some salt and pepper; I also added a teaspoon of chipotle paste, because I like the smoky flavour it gives to whatever you add it to. I brought it to the boil, and then down to a low simmer.

I left it cooking for maybe 20 mins to half an hour, uncovered, so the lentils could break down and the water cook away, making sure to stir frequently, because red lentils will stick the moment your back is turned if you’re not careful. I eventually ended up with a stiff chili, because I had purposely let a touch more of the water cook out that I would ordinarily, just because it would be used to fill something rather than just eaten alone. I then stuffed it into three peppers, which I had blanched previously in some boiling water: two green and one yellow. They then went into the oven on a high heat for about 15 mins, and emerged slightly browned here and there.

Delicious all round — the peppers were tender but not falling to pieces, and the extra cooking gave the spices in the chili a little extra time to cook and work their magic. It was excellent, and I’ll definitely make it again some time.

I also made far too much chili to actually go into the peppers, which I have to admit I was nipping at while doing the stuffing, although that leaves me with leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Two more days of the experiment left, and I’m half-sad and half-impatient to see it through. It’s been good to have some kind of direction and some focus to my month. I’d been feeling a little directionless as far as my diet and personal life went, so it’s been good to have some kind of rudder for the month, something to aim towards.

I think I’ll kind of miss that.


Day 25: Pick Me Food

September 25, 2008

The other day when I was writing about the curry I had, I got the name wrong. I mistakenly thought the company was called Vegalicious, when it was actually just the curry. The company is actually called Pick Me Food, and they’re a small outlet supplying vegetarian food made by hand using fresh ingredients and interesting flavours.

Aside from their delicious curry, they also make a chili, which I had tonight. And it was really very good. Instead of meat, there was red lentils, in just enough amounts to provide body without being overpowering, along with red kidney beans, peppers, lashing of garlic and just enough chili to kick up some spice on your tongue without burning it out. I can honestly say that it was the best chili I’ve eaten in quite some time, and that’s saying something, because I can make an absolutely killer chili if I put my mind to it. It’s a bit of a process, mind, involving black coffee and sometimes even dark chocolate. My wife also makes a great chili, entirely different in character – she uses beans and tomatoes in it, for example, whereas I prefer to leave them out or serve the beans on the side, and makes it with lentils instead of meat, which is a smoother and more pleasant texture. Hers is pretty damned good, too, though; it’s milder and more subtly-flavoured than my meaty efforts, which can tend towards the fireball end of the spectrum.

I have to admit that over this month I have been craving meat chili with a vengeance; I can just imagine it, thick, rich and dark brown, almost like a guisado, piled inside fluffy flour tortillas… Aagh! I’m torturing myself here.

Tomorrow will be without a post, as usual, because I’ll be at my grandfather’s in the evening. It also seems kind of fitting that the last few days of my experiment will be big posts with a lot of content. It just seems right to do it that way.

Anyway, I’m off to bed. G’night!

Days 21 & 22: A Brief Segue into Lentils

September 22, 2008

Sorry about not posting yesterday – I was unable to get a very good connection with WordPress from home for some reason, so couldn’t post.

I made the vegan macaroni and cheese, and it rocked! I added a little bit of Cheezly to the recipe, and it was righteously good. It wasn’t macaroni cheese, although it tasted similar to the old favourite; it was just a little different. I think I’ll stick with making it this way even if I don’t stay vegan or vegetarian at the end of the experiment.

I added some breadcrumbs and baked it until it had browned on top, and it was very good. I can highly recommend it to anyone.

Tonight I’ll be eating a vegetable masala, which is a kind of curry, which I picked up cheap at the supermarket. It’s made by a company called Vegalicious, which makes all of its products by hand. It’s kind of weird to think of eating ready made food which someone else actually made: all too often our prepared food is made solely by machines.

I’ll be having it with some masoor dal (of course!). I can’t get enough red lentils, seems like. They’re extremely healthy and versatile: you can use lentils for all kinds of different dishes. They provide a delicious flavour and texture which can be entirely different to how they’re cooked.

Lentils have been continuously cultivated by humans for literally thousands of years, and are amongst the first plants domesticated by farmers in the Middle East. Archaeologists think that they’ve been cultivated since the aceramic (pre-pottery) Neolithic, which is approximately 10,000 years ago. That’s a long history right there, and no wonder — lentils are 26% protein, contain significant levels of complex cardohydrates and are an excellent source of dietary fibre. If combined with rice, they constitute a complete protein meal. Lentils are a superfood, basically: the high fibre they supply, along with the significant levels of folate, magnesium and iron, helps maintain digestive and cardiac health.

three varieties of lentilLentils come in many varieties, mainly as red and green, although many different varities exist throughout the world in many different cuisines.

Lentils are also extremely suitable for cultivation in dry climates, making them a particularly useful crop in deprived areas. Interestingly enough, though, most of the world’s imported lentils are grown in Saskatchewan, Canada. The biggest single producer is India, although most of their product is consumed on the domestic market; unsurprising, given its high vegetarian population and the fact that its traditional cuisine encompasses many pulses and legumes.

Incidentally, while unsuccessfully looking for a link to the company Vegalicious, I came across a site called by the same name, which can be found here. It has a compendium of recipes aimed at vegetarians and vegans. I’ve only looked quickly, but it seems to be professionally done with a great deal of care and attention, and the recipes seem varied and interesting. I’ll definitely be checking over there more often.

That’s about it for today (and yesterday); I think tomorrow is going to be stuffed tomatoes or something similar. I have a couple of beef tomatoes which need to be eaten, like, yesterday.

Day Seven

September 7, 2008

So, it’s the end of the first week of my month as a vegan. Things seem to be going well so far, although there have been some things which have been difficult to do or avoid, I think overall thing’s are OK.

Probably the biggest change I’ve noticed is that I tend to snack a little less. I seem to be less hungry between meals this week, and I think that can be put down to a change in habits: I can’t snack as easily, so I tend to eat more of what I’ve cooked at meal times. The absence of easily edible snacks has left me in the position of eating more at meals, so avoiding snacks in the first place has let me avoid them further, if that makes sense…

I’ll be cooking in a different way next week – this week has focused a lot on foods which either had meat analogues or were not specifically vegan – that is, they may have been incidentally vegan but not so on purpose. If you see what I mean. In the coming week, I’ll be doing more food which is specifically and deliberately vegan. Basically delving a little further into vegan culture.

Blue Dragon Wholewheat Noodles

Blue Dragon Wholewheat Noodles

Yesterday I ate a stir fry of green peppers, onions and garlic, with wholewheat noodles and soy sauce. While I’m not in the business with this blog of promoting an organic or wholewheat-only diet, I do like wholewheat pasta generally. It has more texture to it and a greater depth of flavour than plain old white pasta, and I find that it tends to be easier to keep al dente when cooking. I had the Blue Dragon variety, which are very tasty indeed.

I’ve had a few cravings for stuff in the last week, I must admit; it’s been difficult not to eat bacon, for example. I don’t think I’m atypical in that respect; anecdotally, it seems everyone knows someone who used to be vegetarian but who strayed from righteousness went back to eating meat because of bacon. I’ve also been thinking a lot about faggots in gravy. Now, I know there will have been a certain amount of sniggering from American readers there, but stay with me. Faggots are a traditional variety of meat ball/dumpling, made from liver, heart etc and baked in gravy. The usual traditional ones are a little harder to find these days, and the usual ones seen in supermarket freezers are Mr Brain’s, which are made from chopped liver and onions. They’re still bloody good, though, and I could kill for some of them right now.

Tonight’s dinner will be curry. Specifically, cauliflower curry with rice and masoor dal.

Masoor Dal

Masoor Dal

You may not know what dal is if you don’t usually eat Indian food. The term refers to any kind of hulled split pulse, like lentils, yellow split peas and so on. The name is also applied to a kind of thick stew/porridge made from the same. Dal comes in various kinds, such as chana dal, which is made from split chickpeas; toor dal, made from split pigeon peas, similar to yellow split peas; and masoor dal, which is made from red lentils.

The way to make the stew is usually pretty simple, as it’s a staple among much of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It starts with boiling the pulse in water with some salt and turmeric until it becomes soft (with red lentils, until they break apart) and then adding a tarka, which is a blend of fried spices and flavourings when it is cooked. While that’s the usual way to cook it, I often can’t be bothered with the process and chuck the lot in all at once. This is also known as inauthentic cookery.

The curry’s going to be pretty bog standard – onions, peppers, spices, cauliflower, left to simmer for a while. I may add a handful of lentils to thicken it up. The rice I usually cook plain, sometimes with a little onion in it. The dal is my favourite, probably because I like lentils.

That’s about it for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the first week of my experiment, and I hope you come back for more.

Crossposted at The Odd Blog.

A month of veganism

September 1, 2008

My experiment is to try to live a month as a vegan. I anticipate it being somewhat difficult.

I don’t eat a lot of meat, but that’s not really the issue; meat in and of itself is not difficult to avoid, not since the vegetarian revolution of the 80s and 90s, but veganism is a whole different kettle of soy-based piscine substitute.

I think you can basically put veganism into two categories – veganism as a diet and veganism as a lifestyle. Read the rest of this entry »